All Texas counties are governed by a 5-member Commissioner Court as established in the State Constitution. Each county is divided by population into four equal Commissioner’s districts (Road & Bridge Districts), from which each Commissioner is elected. The County Judge is the fifth member of the Court and is elected countywide. The County Judge is considered the County’s "Chief Executive Officer" for the purposes of signing contracts and executing other matters approved by the Court as a whole. However the County Judge and Commissioners all have an equal voice (1 vote out of 5) on the Court and all 5 Court members participate equally to approve or disapprove any issue before the Court. All Court members serve staggered four-year terms with no term limits.
The Commissioners Court operates under Constitutional and Statutory authority: Executive, Legislative and Judicial powers in varying degrees. All Texas counties are a subdivision of State government and as such, only have the authority to act in matters for which they have specifically been granted by the State. (Most cities, on the other hand, can act in any matters which do not specifically contravene State or Federal law or “home rule”.)
The most basic duties of the Court are to:
- Annually approve the County property tax rate and budget.
- Annually approve the Dallas County Hospital District (Parkland Hospital) tax rate and budget, as recommended by the Parkland Board of Managers.
Departments and Facilities
Dallas County has one of the lowest tax rates of all large urban counties in Texas. The County also funds capital projects on a "Pay-As-You-Go" basis and no longer issues long-term debt to finance large projects. As past debt is paid down, this frees up existing dollars to speed up new projects such as road improvements, regional transportation initiatives (such as Highway 190 and LBJ) and major facilities renovation or construction (such as the George L. Allen Court Building addition and the Old Red Courthouse renovations).
The Court also oversees the ongoing operations of County departments and facilities. Transportation, public health and welfare, and the justice system (law enforcement, courts, & detention) are some of the largest areas of County government.
Although the Court approves the overall County budget (which includes the budgets of the various departments within the County), by Constitutional design the Court is not in direct authority over any other elected official. Once an elected official's departmental budget is approved (such as the Sheriff, District Attorney, District Clerk, County Clerk, Judges, Constables, Tax Assessor, etc.), that elected official is fully responsible for the operation of their department and the Court does not have the authority to manage or direct the operations of the department. There are over 100 different elected officials operating at the County level of government.
This "checks and balances" system is designed to provide a balance of power amongst the varying authorities operating at the County level. Other County departments are under the direct control of the Court, such as:
- Office of Budget & Evaluation
- Human Resources
- Information Technology
- Health & Human Services
- Medical Examiner/Forensics Lab
- Public Defender
ROAD & BRIDGE DISTRICTS
Each Commissioner also oversees their Road & Bridge District, which includes their administrative staff as well as road crews and mechanics. Each Commissioner has a District office as well as an office in the Commissioners Court Administration Building downtown. The Districts are responsible for maintenance of public roads and bridges in the unincorporated area within the District's boundaries and most also do contract road work for cities within the District which may not operate their own street department or which need additional assistance from time to time. The Districts also participate financially with cities and the State in certain road projects which are of regional benefit.